Afficionados of fine cinema and fine women know that there many good films focusing (usually very closely) on women in catsuits, but only a few that are the true cream of the crop. The ancestor of them all and still, arguably, the best remains "Barbarella." Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), directed by Jan de Bont for Paramount and starring Angelina Jolie in the title role, is one of the best, though maybe not quite up to that Jane Fonda classic in terms of catsuit-ness.
Lara Croft is an archaeologist, sort of the British and female version of Indiana Jones. She is off on one of her archaeological digs when she makes an important discovery. After dusting it off, she realizes that it is an orb that leads to Pandora's Box. That, of course, is the container of all the most wicked and terrifying demons that were locked away by the gods, allowing mankind to develop and prosper.
Jonathan Reiss (Claran Hinds), an evil scientist who develops killer viruses, comes into possession of the box. He wants to offer the box to the highest bidder, and naturally that would go to someone who wants to use it as the ultimate weapon. How the owner would prevent the demons from terrorizing him/herself as well as everyone else is one of those open questions best left un-asked if you want to enjoy the film.
Lara is contacted by British Intelligence to stop Reiss and recover the orb. Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), a British marine turned mercenary, is available to help out. He also happens to be Lara's former lover. Small world, eh? Together again, they pursue Reiss around the world in order to recover the orb and keep Pandora's demons imprisoned.
There are some terrific stunts in this film. At one point, Lara and her partner jump off a building using flying suits. This was actually done by stunt doubles without any tricks using proprietary equipment. Since this is based on a video game whose protagonist was a voluptuous woman capable of just about anything, Jolie plays the character that way, however unrealistic it may be.
The part of the film that will interest most viewers these days, after all the hype has died down, is when Jolie struts around in a silver catsuit. It emphasizes the female form, while at the same time serving as a kind of full-body prophylactic. Anybody who has seen pictures from the film shoot knows that they took out all of Jolie's natural bodily imperfections, sweat, and really everything except her natural curves during post-production. What remains is a classic rendition of a video game character that is about as sexy as it is possible for a human female to achieve.
After filming was complete, Jolie had had enough. Perhaps the whole "sex kitten" thing was wearing on her. She absolutely refused to do another "Lara Croft" film. So, this is what we are left with, and thankfully it isn't spoiled by an inferior sequel like, oh, "Mission Impossible III," "The Godfather III" or "Shrek the Third." Third entries tend to have issues.
The film portrays China as a kind of lawless place without any effective government. Naturally, the Chinese government didn't appreciate that, and promptly banned it.
Most viewers, I think, would agree that this is a better action/adventure film than the first "Lara Croft" entry starring Jolie. She grew into her role, and her deeper understanding of the role shines through in this film. Her British accent sounds better, too. However, most critics panned it, and it did not do well at the box office, at least not well enough to justify further entries in the series. The Lara Croft video games are not quite the sensation they were back in the day (its fans would disagree, I'm sure), so it may be a while before Warner Brothers, which now owns the rights, tries a reboot.
The film is light, cheesy fun. Any film about a video game character is not going to offer deep insights into the human condition. At best, you will get a fast-paced plot and some sexy shots of sexy women. It may be kind of preposterous, but so what. This film delivers on both counts.